A Routine Expedition
Chapter One: The Village
“Girls,” a voice said from outside the room. The voice’s owner knocked on the door. “Breakfast is ready.”
“Okay, Master,” Brandy said. She pulled on a long t-shirt and shook the other two girls. “Rose, Emma, wake up. Food.” The two other lumps burst from under the covers and barreled through the door. Brandy hurried after them, nearly tripping over herself as she raced for the small kitchen and adjoined dining room. Rose and Emma had already taken seats at the table. Emma bounced in her chair excitedly, her blond-furred breasts bouncing with her. The rest of her body, aside from her stomach, neck, and inner thighs, was covered in soft, tiger-striped fur. To her right was Rose, a tall, statuesque woman with long, fiery red hair tied into a ponytaur tail. Her generous bosom stood proudly from her chest, pushing out the robe she had tied on. Brandy helped the other person in the kitchen carry four plates heaped with food to the table.
“Eat up,” Ethan said as he placed plates in front of Rose and Emma. He was average in height, if rather broad in build, with straight black hair that fell to his shoulders and contrasted his pale skin. His eyes were hidden by a pair of dark goggles, and his clothes while well-worn were well-made and comfortable. He continued talking as he tucked into his meal. “We’ve got a busy day today. Rose, Emma, you two are making deliveries today. Brandy and I’ll have the list for you once you’re prettied up.”
“Yes, Master.” They finished eating in silence. Rose cleared the table while Emma darted down to the bathroom to take a hot bath. Brandy followed Ethan out of the small one-story cabin and took a moment to look around. Their home was built at the top of a large hill, with lush grass all around it. The roof was lined with solar panels that provided for their modest electric demands, while large windows let in plenty of natural sunlight. Inside was only the center room, which they used as kitchen, dining room, and a place to relax; the bathroom, where Brandy knew Rose and Emma were getting each other clean in the bathtub big enough to hold four; and the bedroom, dominated by a huge, soft, very comfortable bed. Brandy grinned to herself as she fondly remembered many fun nights, filled with moans and purrs and soft flesh and hard bits. Near the house was a hand pump for the well from which they pumped most of their water. A dirt road wound its way through the lower hills to a small village, made up of a handful of wooden buildings lining the wide Road. The River glistened on the far side of the Village, and further on, flatlands and a dense forest stretched into the horizon.
“You coming, Brandy?” Ethan called, and the young Eva hurried after him. They followed the small dirt path from the front door of the house, through their small garden, to a cinderblock building with a few small windows at the top of the wall and a single steel door with a half-dozen locks. Ethan quickly unlocked them and led the way inside the building.
The walls were lined with cabinets and countertops, with racks full of glassware hanging to dry. Next to the door was an expansive bookshelf, crammed with books (some even stacked haphazardly on top of the rows) of every size and style imaginable: modern spiral notebooks, ruffled with age; ancient leather-bound tomes, musty and yellow; even, on the top shelf, a series of leather journals with dates printed on them, arranged in order for nearly ten years. The far wall was covered completely by shelves filled with hundreds of jars and bottles: small glass tubes filled with amber liquid, round flasks with glittery purple powder, huge hermetically-sealed drums with illegible labels on their sides. Ethan was already circling the island table in the middle of the room and shrugging on a stained lab coat. He quickly examined several apparati that looked like wire and glass tubing sculptures made by a blind man before going to the back wall and pulling down several jars and bottles.
Brandy followed him in and pulled on her own labcoat. She pulled a clipboard from beside the door and flipped through the papers on it.
“The Parkinsons doubled their order from last time,” she said. Ethan pulled another jar of a violet, oily liquid. Brandy opened a cabinet and removed several cardboard boxes and a roll of wrapping paper.
“I was right about their daughter and Threshold, then,” Ethan said. He and Brandy worked to pack the boxes for the orders. After half an hour, a dozen paper-wrapped boxes were labeled and stacked next to the door with a clipboard leaned against it.
“Any others?” Ethan asked.
“That’s all for today, Master,” Brandy answered. They washed up and went back to the main house, where Rose and Emma were just coming out of the bathroom freshly washed and brushed. They were both dressed in navy halters and black skirts, with plain leather collars clasped about their necks. Ethan tapped a tiny button on the small electronic pad that served as a lock and the collars made happy little beeps.
“We’re ready,” Rose said. Emma bounced behind her, nodding excitedly.
“Good girls.” Ethan patted both of their heads and led them to the laboratory. Rose stood outside and shifted forms, her long, smooth human legs replaced by a powerful horse’s body with reddish fur. She took a saddle from a cabinet beside the door and, with a minor feat of flexibility laid it on her back. Emma jumped forward and adjusted it, tightening straps under Rose’s belly.
“Thanks, Em,” Rose said. She shuffled from hoof to hoof as Ethan and Brandy carried out the paper-wrapped packages and loaded them into the saddlebags.
“Thirteen deliveries today,” Ethan said. “Brandy and I’ll walk you two to the village. We need to run some errands, so go to the post office once you’re done.”
“Yes, Master,” they said. Ethan double-checked all of the bags and handed the clipboard to Rose. She shifted her weight from hoof to hoof and flipped through the clipboard. Emma clambered up on Rose’s saddle and made herself comfortable as the four of them started walking.
Ethan sighed as they reached the Village. It was nearing eleven, and the dozen small businesses were at their busiest. People and pokegirls were milling down the Road, several glancing at the foursome at the south gate.
“One hour,” Ethan said with a pat on Rose’s arm. “Go.” Rose galloped off with Emma on her back.
“What errands do we have, Master?” Brandy asked, her long ears standing at attention. She fiddled with her own anti-capture collar.
“Grocer’s, smith’s, and the post office,” Ethan said. People stopped talking as they walked by, mothers crossed to the other side rather than pass by Ethan and his Eva, and Pokegirls bristled as they neared. Ethan kept his hands in the pockets of his over-sized black pants and his head raised.
Rose and Emma covered the path from the gate to the front door of the MacPhearson residence at a slow trot. Emma hopped down from the saddle and knocked on the door. It opened, revealing a short, round woman with a plain face etched into a scowl.
“Yes?” she asked in a reverberating bass. Emma held out a clipboard and pen.
“Delivery for Molly MacPhearson,” Emma said. “Sign here, please.” Molly MacPhearson quickly scrawled her signature across the bottom of the form and nearly threw the clipboard back at Emma. Emma pulled a small package from the saddlebags and gave it to MacPhearson. “Here you go! Would you like to place any other orders while we’re here?”
“No, thank you!” MacPhearson said sharply and closed the door with not quite enough force to be a slam. Emma, not discouraged in the slightest, climbed back into the saddle.
“Four more to go!” she cried with a playful slap to Rose’s rump. The Ponytaur snorted and cantered down the path and through the gate.
Brandy had hooked her arm around Ethan’s as they walked through the Village, bags filled with food in their other hands. She happily nuzzled her Master’s arm, adding an extra little sway to her hips as they made their way to the smithy.
“Boris!” Ethan called. A bear of a man trudged out and squinted his eyes against the bright sun.
“Ethan?” the man grinned wide, showing off his uneven and stained teeth. “’bout time you showed up! Got your stuff right here, waitin’ for you!” Boris reached one hand the size of a wreckball beneath one of the shelves and pulled out a rolled-up canvas package. “A dozen new tent pegs, top quality, all ready to go. Even put on a rust-resistant coating.”
“Thanks, Boris.” Ethan slipped the package into his satchel. “How much do I owe you?”
“You don’t owe me a thing,” Boris clapped Ethan on the back, almost knocking him to the ground. “Not after cleanin’ up my little girl’s hurts when she fell.”
“Thanks,” Ethan nodded and hurriedly left, making his way down the street to the state building that served as the Village’s post office, police station, hospital, and pokecenter. The walk lasted only a few minutes, but what they found outside set both on edge. Rose and Emma were waiting for them, Emma still nestled in the saddle, and a dozen teenagers ringed them. As Ethan and Brandy approached, they heard the teens’ taunting.
“Isn’t this just grand,” one said, standing a bit forward and taller than the others, seemingly the leader. “Two little pokegirls out on their own. Where’s your owner, girls?” The others snickered at his tone—he spoke as if to a child, or an idiot.
“Maybe he abandoned them,” One of the others, a rat-faced, pimpled kid spoke up with a leer at Emma. “Maybe he left them here so anyone could have them.”
“That Ponytaur’s a bit old,” the leader stepped forward, looking them up and down, “but I suppose she’d do for a few Tamings.” Rose glared down at him and stamped a hoof on the street. Ethan waved at her and caught her eye. She smirked and crouched down, springing up and over the teenagers and landing lightly in front of Ethan.
“We finished earlier than expected, Master.” She spoke louder than necessary for Ethan to hear, and added an extra emphasis on the title. The teens gave Ethan a mixture of harsh glares and disappointed shrugs. Emma pounced on Ethan and rubbed her furred cheek against his neck while Brandy loaded their bags of groceries into Rose’s saddlebags.
“Any new orders?” he asked Rose, who handed him the clipboard. With one arm around Emma’s waist, he walked to the state building and tucked the clipboard under his arm. The teens had scattered, moving on to pester someone else, and Ethan and Emma made it all the way up the steps to the door of the state building before someone else interrupted them.
“Warden!” Ethan turned to see George Simpson, the Village’s unofficial dictator. Emma ducked and hid behind Ethan as he turned towards Simpson. Brandy and Rose tensed.
“What do you want?” Ethan asked evenly, not letting a trace of emotion show.
“The Village Council set a new ordinance,” Simpson smirked, stretching his leathery face, “that declares all products sold in the Village to be subject to search by a Council official.”
“Uh-huh.” Ethan whispered in Emma’s ear and gestured Brandy to him. Emma bounced down the stairs and jumped onto Rose, who immediately dashed up the Road to their house. Simpson looked from her rapidly retreating behind to Ethan and back, and waved an angry finger at the dark-haired man.
“Warden, I demand you call her back!” Simpson snarled. “All the products you brought today are confiscated, and—”
“They were already delivered,” Ethan said evenly. “I don’t have them.”
He turned and guided Brandy into the building and to the desk manned by a NurseJoy who wore her hair in a tight bun. She smiled gently at him, but it faltered when Simpson followed them in.
“Then I want a list of your customers,” Simpson ordered. “All of them.”
“My list of customers is confidential.” Ethan pulled the clipboard out of his satchel and handed an order form to the NurseJoy. He pulled another form from the clipboard and held it out for Simpson. “I can give you this. Fill out whatever you want to inspect, and I can have them to you within a week. I will, of course, expect full payment.” Simpson snarled, but Ethan turned away to check his post office box, finding it barren of anything addressed to Moonlight Natural Remedies.
“I have the form ready, Ethan,” the NurseJoy said, holding the folded paper out to him. Ethan reached for it, but Simpson’s frail but surprisingly fast hand snatched it from her.
“I’m confiscating this under—give that back!” Simpson shouted. He turned to the beefy man wearing a police uniform that had taken the form from him and glared hard.
“Here you are, Mr. Warden,” the policeman said, holding out the wrinkled form. Ethan took it from him and thanked him before leaving the State Building. The NurseJoy went back to her work, but kept an eye on the men before her counter.
“Do not contradict me again, Paris,” Simpson hissed, his icy eyes narrowed. “I had every right to take that under the new ordinance.”
“With respect, Mr. Simpson, you didn’t,” Paris said, his low voice rumbling in a not-quite-menacing manner. “You do have the right to inspect anything he intends to sell, but his order forms are not so. I suggest you take his offer and order one of each of his products.”
“You watch it, Paris,” Simpson almost growled. “You swore an oath to follow my directives, and—”
“Mr. Simpson, I swore an oath to uphold the law. I intend to do so. Now, I’m sure you have duties other than persecuting an honest businessman. Perhaps you should see to them.”
“We’re back!” Brandy called as she and Ethan entered the house. Emma and Rose were in the small but functional kitchen area, stowing the last of the groceries. Ethan braced himself as a loud, quick thumping signaled Emma running into the room and tackling him to the ground.
“Masterrrr,” she purred, licking his cheek. Ethan grinned and hugged her to him. Much more calmly, Rose stood nearby in her human form.
“Master, I’m going for a run,” she said. Ethan nodded and she bounded outside, shifting into her centauroid form almost as she cleared the threshold. With Emma still clinging to him, Ethan stood and gently pried her off. He dropped his satchel on the table and ushered the girls back outside.
“Come on, there’s work to be done in the garden.”
“That’s is the third one this month,” Rose said as the four of them gathered around their small table for dinner, a simple meal of steamed fruits and vegetables, bread, and baked beans. “He’s trying to run us out of business.”
“We already have to price lower than the League stuff just to get people to consider it,” Brandy added with an angry stab with her fork at a slice of cucumber. “If Simpson keeps passing these ordinances, we won’t have a customer left.” Ethan quietly ate, his mouth set in a grim line as he chewed. “And our stuff is better! It works on all three levels of being, it doesn’t have any of that artificial crap in it that Johanna puts in, and we make it right here, just outside the Village. By hand! We should be allowed to ask for twice what we are, and they still get it because it’d be worth it! But noooo—just because Simpson has some vendetta against you, Master—”
“There’s more to it than just me and Simpson,” Ethan said evenly. “It isn’t just me taking Emma in after her Threshold, or even making pokegirl-based products. I’m not sure why, but I just have a feeling that there’s more to this than we currently know.”
Rose looked from Brandy to Ethan and back again, before glancing across the table to Emma, who was pushing a few carrots around on her plate. Ethan caught her gaze and put a gentle hand on Emma’s shoulder. Her head snapped up, her gleaming golden eyes almost dull.
“Sorry, Master,” she said. Ethan leaned closer and cupped her cheek in his hand. She nuzzled it and glanced at his eyes through his goggles.
“It’s not your fault, love,” he said warmly, reaching up to scratch behind her ear. “So don’t apologize.”
“Yes, Masterrrr,” she purred and nipped playfully at his hand.
“Good girl.” Emma beamed at that, and Ethan caught Brandy’s and Rose’s approving looks. “Now, eat up. We might roll around a bit after dinner.”
Ethan couldn’t help but smile as the youngest girl’s enthusiasm spiked and she nearly inhaled what was on her plate, and she fidgeted as she waited for the others to finish.
Later, only a candle was lit in their bedroom as Brandy, Emma, and Rose spooned together under the thick blankets. Ethan sat on the side of the bed, on top of the covers and leaning over to tuck his girls in. His goggles had been pushed up onto his forehead, and his eyes gleamed in the candlelight, looking almost like they glowed from within.
“See you in the morning, loves,” he whispered giving each a chaste but tender and warm kiss. Emma looked up from between Rose and Brandy, a worried frown evident.
“Master?” she asked quietly, almost inaudibly. “You don’t think Daddy’s a bad person, do you?”
“No, Emma,” Ethan said with a reassuring smile and a pet of her head. “He’s just doing what he thinks he needs to do to protect his…his family. Just like I do what I need to do to protect mine. Don’t worry about him, love. Tomorrow, Brandy and I’ll get the lab ready to shut down for a bit, and then day after we’ll go on a research trip. Take a break and get out in the wild.” Emma’s frown steadily weakened as he spoke, becoming a toothy grin at the idea of a trip.
“Promise, Emma. Now you three go on to sleep.”
“Master?” Brandy spoke up this time from where Emma was hugging her head to the younger girl’s much larger bosom. “We love you, Master.”
“I love you, to—”
“But sometimes I wish you could sleep with us, especially after such a wonderful Taming.” Ethan smirked at her.
“I do, too, love,” he said and gave her cheek another kiss. “I do, too.”
Ethan blew out the candle and stepped silently from the room, the moonlight through the crack in the blackout curtains enough for him to see by. He made his way out of the cozy little home and down to his lab, where he, completely at home in the Dark, took a few of the books down, including the latest in the row of dated journals, as well as several jars of powders from the opposite wall.
“As much as I hate to admit it, Brandy’s right,” he said to the empty air as he worked with the ingredients for products and took notes on the new process he was trying. “If this keeps up, we might have to find a new market.”